How you spend your money is always a personal decision. That said, it's also important to be able to recognize the signs of emotional spending, both in yourself and others. What is emotional spending, you might be wondering? According to Ryan Howell, PhD at Psychology Today, emotional spending and compulsive shoppers tend to shop in response to their negative emotions and negative sense of self. Of course, depending on our own relationships with money and our own budgets, we are all going to spend differently; as such, the precise boundaries one person has might not work for someone else. It's good to remember, though, that emotional spending can impact people no matter what their socioeconomic status is.
It's also fair to point out that emotional spending is not a sign of immaturity or being irresponsible, but a real compulsion with which a lot of people struggle. Especially when we consider that our consumerist society constantly sends the message that buying stuff leads to happiness, it's no surprise that many of us have begun to internalize that message in our daily lives, whether or not we're aware of it on a deeper level.
Which brings us back to the signs that you might be emotional spending — indications that there's more to your spending habits than just treating yourself every now and again. If they ring a little too true for you, don't panic or blame yourself; instead, consider reaching out a financial consult, a counselor, or even just a trusted friend or family member for support. Team You is there for you if you need it.
1. Instant Gratification Dictates A Lot Of Your Purchases
Everybody likes getting new things, but if the feeling of instant gratification is a big part of the picture, you might be emotional spending in an attempt to make inspire happiness and excitement you might not otherwise feel.
2. You Shop To Escape
Shopping is fun, whether it's online or in a store. It can also be pleasurably distracting to look at storefronts and compare items. But if you do this regularly as a means of avoiding thinking about other pressing issues in your life, it might be a sign you're using spending as a band-aid.
3. You Feel Like Your Purchases Are Always Competing With Others
Buying stuff to fit in with a crowd, or to give the appearance that you're of a certain socioeconomic status, is something a lot of people struggle with. It can become unhealthy for both your self-esteem and your wallet.
4. You Buy Stuff To Make A "New" You
There's nothing wrong with making changes in yourself; nor is there anything wrong with using things like clothing or hairstyles to express yourself. But it's worth noting that if you're unhappy with aspects of yourself, buying a "new" you by getting a whole new wardrobe, moving to a new apartment, and so on likely won't actually provide the "instant fix" you're looking for. This focus on the new stuff to define yourself suggests you might not be dealing with the real questions you have about yourself. Don't be afraid of internal reflection; it can lead to a whole lot of good!
5. You Find Yourself Buying & Returning Items A Lot
Return policies are great, and they're there for a reason. But if you find yourself frequently buying items and then returning them later, it might be a sign that the purchases are being made on impulse.
6. Spending Money Is The Only Way You Celebrate Yourself
It's totally normal to want to go out and celebrate when good things happen to you, like a promotion coming your way at work or finally achieving a personal accomplishment you've been working towards. However, if you feel that you constantly need to spend money on a new item or new experience as a means of treating yourself, it might mean that you're using spending as a way to connect with yourself at a big emotional distance.
7. You Spend Money When You're Stressed About Money
This one is particularly tough to deal with: If you're stressed about money, it can sometimes feel like you're so far in the financial hole that you don't know how to handle it. So what are you tempted to do? Satiate the unhappiness or stress by going out to dinner or upgrading your TV "while you can" because you're unsure of what the future holds. In terms of debt, this stage of emotional spending can be particularly rough.
The good news, though, is that if any of this sounds like you, you can get a handle on emotional spending. From bigger strategies, like making a budget and keeping track of it accurately, to smaller ones, like unsubscribing yourself from any retailer mailing lists you might be on, there's plenty you can do if you want to take action. Just don't beat yourself up about it. You deserve to be treated kindly — by others, and also by yourself.